BERLIN — Borussia Dortmund's emergence as a main rival to upset Bayern Munich's dominance in Germany was confirmed at the weekend with its second consecutive Bundesliga title.
In doing so it became the first team — other than Bayern — to retain the title since its last successful defense 16 years ago, while ending Bayern's habit of winning the league at least every second season since 1996.
Dortmund secured its eighth German league crown on Saturday while extending the Bundesliga's record unbeaten run in a season to 26 games.
"It's crazy what we're doing," Dortmund coach Juergen Klopp said.
Win its remaining games and Dortmund would set a Bundesliga record haul of 81 points, while a first ever domestic double is in sight with the German Cup final on May 12 — against Bayern.
"It's impressive that Borussia won the title for the second year in a row with this young team," Germany coach Joachim Loew said.
Few would argue though — least of all Dortmund — that the balance of power has swung away from Munich. The German powerhouse's financial might is too strong.
Bayern responded to Dortmund's title win last year by investing close to €44 million (then $63 million) on shoring up its defense, with the bulk taking Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer from Schalke.
Bayern started the season with a loss but recovered to win the following eight games, scoring 25 and conceding none, leaving experts to fear an unexciting season.
"No team can threaten Bayern in the German league in normal circumstances," Bayern captain Philipp Lahm said in September.
Meanwhile, Dortmund made a stuttering start, and had fallen eight points behind Bayern after six games played.
"After six matchdays we were 11th," Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said. "To come back again from that is huge. It's simply grandiose."
With a side virtually unchanged from the year before — Ilkay Guendogan had come in to replace the Real Madrid-bound Nuri Sahin — Dortmund recovered to clinch the title with an eight-point advantage over Bayern.
All this with a squad cheaply assembled and which should yet improve.
Mats Hummels, Shinji Kagawa, Kevin Grosskreutz, Sven Bender, Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski, scorer of 20 Bundesliga goals so far, are all 23 or younger.
Rising star Marco Reus is joining from Borussia Moenchengladbach at the end of the season after Dortmund agreed to pay his €17.5 million ($23 million) buy-out clause.
The 22-year-old Reus turned down Bayern to move to his hometown club, while another Bayern target, 18-year-old midfielder Leonardo Bittencourt will join from second-division Energie Cottbus.
While the size of Reus' transfer may raise eyebrows, Watzke said the transfer was "soundly financed" from the club's reserves from the previous years.
Dortmund is still paying heed to the lessons learned from near bankruptcy in 2005 after years of financial problems going back to the early 1980s.
Despite successes on the pitch — Dortmund beat Juventus to win the Champions League in 1997 and then Brazilian club Cruzeiro for the Intercontinental Cup — the debts continued to spiral.
The departure of coach Ottmar Hitzfeld and a host of important players didn't help as they weren't adequately replaced. Dortmund flirted with relegation in the 1999-2000 season.
In 2000, Dortmund became the only German club listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, the money raised bringing in expensive stars to help win the Bundesliga in 2002.
Costs continued to spiral out of control, however, and failure to reach the Champions League in 2003 had serious implications. The club was forced to sell its Westfalen Stadium — which it leases back — before tottering on the brink of bankruptcy in 2005, when share value plummeted by more than 80 percent and players' wages were cut.
It was around this time that Bayern loaned Dortmund €2 million ($2.6 million) to help make ends meet.
"I'd do it again," Bayern president Uli Hoeness said recently. "I'd always help anyone lying on the floor."
Dortmund recovered, and its stadium's capacity was expanded to 80,720 for the 2006 World Cup, though relegation also loomed the following season, when three coaches were appointed.
It wasn't until Watzke appointed Klopp as coach in 2008 that Dortmund's fortunes began to improve, culminating in back to back Bundesliga titles achieved in swashbuckling fashion.
"There are no words to describe what the lads have done," Klopp said as he was soaked with beer. "If ever there was a deserved champion, then it's us."
The progress has not gone unnoticed in Munich.
"The team showed class and consistency and is therefore deserved German champion for 2012," said Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Bayern will do all it can to prevent Dortmund claiming the double in Berlin on May 12.
"We'll celebrate a bit, drink a bit, have a bit of fun. But we still want to collect something in three weeks," said Watzke, with his eye already on the German Cup final.